In the short time that I’ve been networking I’ve talked passionately about Social Media. I worry that it’s a missed opportunity for start-ups to be on a level playing field against established companies.  It really is democracy at its best and I hope you’ll find this post useful.

Marketing for Startups is FREE –Social Media shouldn’t be poo-poo’d, especially as it’s free marketing, and start-ups should invest a little time to branding themselves online.  I’ve often asked the question to fellow networkers why we buy products and services from bigger companies.  Their answers are often because they trust the brand, the products are outstanding, and they share the same values. So how is anyone in the online community going to buy from a little known company, such as MayKingTea? This is where marketing comes in.  Social Media can help to establish a long-term marketing strategy to get your name/brand out there, when you’re known to people, hopefully they’ll like what you write, they’ll start to trust you and when that trust is established they will buy from you at a later stage.  Social Media can help you to establish that trust amongst strangers, who might become customers.

A Long Term Strategy – Just like networking you’re not going to make money overnight.  It’s all about developing a relationship with your customers, potential business folk you can collaborate with and even vendors.  A few vendors have found me on Twitter but rather than sell to me straight away they created a dialogue with me and found the right opportunity to sell to me.  For those that sold to me immediately, I was put off by them straight away and your marketing strategy on Social Media should be exactly the same.

Your Opportunity to Shine –I’ve already talked about becoming a brand and why that’s important to your business, but how do we do that?  One of the ways is to establish yourself as an expert in your field.  Social Media is about giving useful content to your global community so for MayKingTea, I would Tweet about articles I’ve read in the press or useful blog posts that other tea folk have written, invoke discussions via discussion groups on Linked In or comment on other people’s blogs.  By establishing yourself as an expert your customers will come to trust and respect your brand and in time will buy from you.

Knowledge Sharing – As well as sharing knowledge in your expert field, you have to remember that you are a person and so there has to be a balance between me as a tea expert and me as May King Tsang so don’t forget to share the social aspect to your life too.  For me, I talk about politics, I am a great enthusiast for technology and I love food so I retweet about Twitter, Social Media and gadgets.  Anything that is promoting something local, I will retweet that too.  But just like when you speak to someone in person, remember to thank people if they’re retweeted your tweets or suggested you as a #FollowFriday.

Innocent Speak – Who’s heard of Innocent Smoothies?  They had the best marketing strategy so much so that big corporations have tried to do the same.  Remember the banana phone?  The plain talking is now being adopted by corporate companies and some of them are doing it badly.  In fact big companies are recruiting marketing strategists who can talk ‘innocent speak’.  Big companies are trying to use Twitter – some of them doing badly and some of them doing well.  Audi for example asked people’s opinion for what should go in the next car and prospective customers responded. Honda, however, bombarded their followers with “Look at our latest model”.  Audi was applauded and rewarded for their campaign as their sales went up on their next model, Honda was slated.  So remember to be yourself on Social Media: do the straight talking and don’t pretend to be anyone you’re not.  Write like you’re speaking with someone.

Not sure? Ask! The best way to engage with your community is to start a dialogue by asking questions.  Engage in a conversation via Facebook and Twitter.  Ask a question in the discussion groups in Linked In.  By showing you’re human and that you don’t know everything there is to know in your field, it’s a way of putting a human face to a brand.  It’s human nature to want to help and if you like a brand or someone, they’d be more than happy to assist.

Google Rankings – Who would like to be at the top of the organically grown part of a Google search?  It was through my constant activity online that allowed me to be in the privileged position that my website is at the top of Google and all the other major search engines.  To do this, make sure you write articles on MeetnLink, comment on other people’s articles, add friends on MeetnLink.  As well as the MeetnLink website, make sure you write articles and add them to your website, or to places such as Ezine articles.  I’ve joined many discussion groups on Linked In and added comments to other people’s discussions.  I’ve started my own discussions.  I’ve written on other people’s blogs, started my own blog.  Taking pictures and posting them on your website, your blog, and places like Twitpic and Flikr is also important (make sure your pictures have a meaningful title, the keywords are really important).  Putting videos on YouTube and incorporating those into your website and/blog, get press releases written and publish those online for free.  And don’t worry about getting the videos professionally done, the majority of videos posted on YouTube are home made.  Some of my tweets on Twitter also appear on Google once I’ve searched for MayKingTea. 

Twitter – People always say to me they never have time for Twitter, but did you know that you can send an SMS to Twitter?  So if you don’t have internet capability on your phone you can sms to 86444.  People have also said to me, “I don’t know what to Tweet about”.  You can tweet about anything!!  I’ve seen things in the street that have been interesting, heard interesting conversations.  I’ve Tweeted about interesting people and their businesses I’ve met at networking meetings.  Taken pictures whilst on public transport of beautiful things, tea that I’ve drank, afternoon tea experiences, displays of  my market stall. Remember you’re trying to build you as a person and as a brand online so that people can get to know you, so imagine having a conversation with someone and then Tweet about it.  Self promotion should only constitute about 10% of your tweets (90% conversation) maximum, I’ve been told.  The rest of the time should be useful content and things that people might find interesting.  Don’t forget the importance of hashtags in order to categorise your tweets.  Some companies or followers will pick up on your hashtags and will want to follow you once you’ve talked about a certain subject, although it’s not a numbers game.  So don’t feel bad if you only have a large number of followers.  It’s better to have 300 followers, 90% of whom are your customers/vendors/businesses to do joint ventures with rather than have 3000 followers and only 5% fall in the same category.

E-Networking – I’ve already talked about the different aspects of Social Media.  For me, I had a strategy that I wanted all of my teas to be sourced from a garden that I know about within two years, but with the power of Social Media, 65% of my teas I know the gardens of where they come from.  Vendors have been in touch and if I’ve liked their product, I know their story, that they’re a small tea grower; I’ve incorporated their teas into my collection.  I’ve also learnt a great deal from networking online.  There’s always plenty to learn about tea and there’s many experts out there that I’ve tapped into in order to improve my knowledge of tea.  As well as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, don’t forget to keep up the relationships online, keep up the relationship on MeetnLink or other networking sites you’ve signed up to.

And Keep It Up – Remember that you have to make time for Social Media.  It can be addictive but be very strict in how much time you’re going to spend on it.  For me personally, my strategy starts when I wake up.  Catch up on emails and up to an hour on Social Media in the morning.  And last thing at night before I go to bed.  If I’m travelling on the bus or train to a meeting, I might find the time then also.  I often break my rules, and that’s something you have to be careful with.  In the last couple of weeks, my online activity has gone down a little bit, partly because I have a temporary phone which doesn’t have a lot of functionality, and now in Google, my website doesn’t appear right at the top anymore, which means I’ll need to work harder in order to put that back right up to the top again.  So be aware that if your online productivity goes down, then your Google rankings will also go down too.